Aventuras Américas | Part 57 | Barcelona #1: Massive Debt

New to the series? Begin at the start of the journey in the job hunt stage or pick it up at club 1 Puerto Montt, club 2 Universidad Católica, club 3 New York Red Bulls, club 4 River Plate Montevideo, club 5 América de Cali, club 6 Alianza Lima, club 7 Puebla FC, club 8 Palmeiras, club 9 FC Edmonton, club 10 Newell’s Old Boys, club 11 Godoy Cruz, club 12 Flamengo and international teams Brazil and Colombia. Or dip into the start of the European leg of the journey at club 13 Wolfsburg and club 14 Liverpool.

Robinho Lazaró became the second-most successful South American manager of all-time after he led Liverpool to the Premier League and Champions League double. The Colombian only trailed his retired former Corinthians opponent Fernando Diniz by 135 manager points as he assessed his options in the summer of 2051.

Lazaró wasn’t opposed to sticking with Liverpool given the sheer quality of the squad he’d built, but he felt he’d achieved all he could at the club. So when 1 July 2051 ticked over, he decided to resign as manager of Liverpool, who hired his Wolfsburg replacement Julian Nagelsmann.

The only job available in the summer was Italian champions AC Milan, whose boss bizarrely left for 14th in the Premier League Spurs. Milan chose to replace him with Barcelona manager Nikola Vlasic, who’d job Lazaró had taken at Liverpool. And the Colombian boss jumped at the opportunity to apply for the vacant role, despite (say this quietly) very much sitting on the Real Madrid side of the El Clásico rivalry. But he figured it’s 2051, so that doesn’t really matter anymore.

An interview eventually arrived, in which worrying comments around financial instability popped up. Barca eventually came forward with an offer worth £110,000-per-week, and that’s the kind of offer no manager in the world can turn down.

Futbol Club Barcelona in 2051

Remember how Barcelona are in massive debt at the start of FM22? Well, having turned on the Spanish leagues a few years ago, that situation hasn’t changed in 2051. Barcelona have a bank balance of minus £166.5 million and net debt of £155.5 million. And that presented a whole new type of challenge.

Barcelona have added 11 LaLiga titles to their haul during this save, taking them to 37 in total. They’ve also won one Champions League back in 2027, a Europa League in 2023 and 12 more Spanish Cups.

Lazaró immediately discovered a squad that was extremely veteran, with 11 of the 23 man squad aged over 30. And only five were aged 21 or under. The financial situation wasn’t helped by paying wages like £625,000-per-week for English striker Sam Ripley, who is admittedly a very good striker and is closing in on Harry Kane’s record of 84 goals for England. But it’s worth noting that 10 first-teamers are out of contract at the end of this season.

The best player at the club is 31-year-old midfielder Diego Elías, who signed from Man City for £176 million eight years ago – which is the joint-record transfer of the save. Another key player is Ivorian midfielder Ange Tra Bi, along with world-class midfielder Riccardo Galletta. While Barca for some reason decided to sign 37-year-old midfielder Patrick Goma on a one-year deal from Chelsea in the summer, although he is admittedly still a solid player.

The good news is there are exciting youngsters to work with. The pick of them is 17-year-old right-winger Xavier García, along with 16-year-old winger José Ramón Roca, who looks like a ridiculous talent, 21-year-old striker Papa Mbengue, 18-year-old midfielder Albert Vila and 21-year-old midfielder Pablo Urrutia, who Lazaró planned to retrain as a right-back. While 15-year-old centre-back Mislav Grubisic is very much one to keep an eye on.

Rebuilding Barcelona

Despite the shocking finances, Lazaró had £25 million and £300,000-a-week spare wage budget to work with. Making matters worse, they’d already filled the maximum three non-EU player slots! He managed to sell five players for a profit of £60 million, which slashed £1.2 million off the wage budget.

With limited finances, Lazaró returned to Liverpool to loan in goalkeeper Gérard Nana before snapping up midfielder/winger Agustín Benavides for £3 million from Independiente.

Lazaró decided to adopt the customary Barcelona tiki-taka approach using a standard 4-3-3 tactic.

Getting started with Barcelona

The Barcelona board expects Lazaró to play attacking, entertaining, possession, high-tempo football and make the most of set-pieces. They also expect Champions League qualification and to reach the Champions League quarter-finals and the Copa del Rey final, while repairing the club’s financial damage.

The media expect Barca to finish second, at 3/1 to win the league. Real Madrid are Evens favourites, Atlético are 9/2, Valencia 20/1 and Sevilla 33/1.

Lazaró faced two away games to begin his time in Spain. First was a trip to Las Palmas, which Barca dominated, missed a load of chances but nicked 1-0 thanks to a Ripley strike. That was repeated at Valencia as Ripley’s eight-minute goal was enough for all three points, which saw Lazaró win Manager of the Month in his first month in Spain, despite only being fifth in LaLiga!

His first match at Camp Nou as Barcelona manager, and only his second-ever at the 104,000-capacity stadium, was against Sevilla. They had fewer shots than their first two games but eased to a 2-0 win with Ripley scoring again and goalkeeper Matija Radisavljevic winning player of the match for a penalty save.

Lazaró’s first defeat as Barca boss came at Atlético, who nicked a 1-0 on 87 minutes. But a run of easier matches saw them breeze past Granada, Leganés, Getafe and Almeria, scoring 10 and conceding once. They were unlucky to draw 1-1 at Bilbao before more easy games flanked Lazaró’s first Catalan Derby at home to Espanyol. A quiet first half ended with the most un-Barcelona goal ever as Radisvljevic hoofed one over the top for Ripley to run through and tuck home. But winger Tomás offered a more typical Barca goal as he received the ball from Ripley and curled a beauty into the top corner for a 2-1 win.

That sent Barca top of the league heading into Lazaró’s first-ever El Clásico as his side travelled to the cauldron of Santiago Bernabéu. Madrid, bizarrely playing a 3-5-2, suffered a poor start as Ripley latched onto an Elías long-throw then gave away a penalty that Goma missed. And that proved pivotal as Madrid went down the other end to equalise then took the lead on 74 minutes. But Barca responded well as midfielder Glody Mukonya curled home a delicious free-kick to claim a point three minutes later.

A mass of injuries arrived and they dropped a few points. But big wins over Real Sporting and Villarreal were coupled with Real Madrid going on a shocking run of form, in which they only won once through November and December! Barca ended the year with a 2-0 win at Celta, which moved them miles clear heading into a two-week winter break.

Indeed, they had a 12-point lead after 18 games and were 13 points clear of Madrid! They were scoring two goals a game and had only conceded 11 times. Strangely, no Barca players were amongst the individual leaders. But interestingly, 12th-place Betis had the league’s top scorer in Jose Antonio, who’d scored 19 of their 28 goals.

Champions League Group of Death

Lazaró’s hopes of retaining his Champions League crown were already tempered. But they were rendered obsolete with a group containing Inter and PSG, who finished second to Rennes in Ligue 1 for the second time in three years.

Barca began at home to PSG and put an inspired performance to win 3-0 with goals from Tomás, Galletta and a Goma penalty! They also put in a great defensive effort to win 2-1 at Inter before a fully rotated side beat Kobenhavn 3-1, in which Grubisic became the youngest-ever Barcelona player aged 15 years 327 days, then lost 2-1 away to the Danes. But Ripley and a Goma penalty sealed the group with a game to go! A reserve 11 lost 4-1 in Paris, but winning this group was a great effort.

Barca financial issues

If you’ve ever wondered why Barca struggle financially then here are a couple of examples. As if paying Ripley £625,000-a-week wasn’t bad enough, he also had a £125,000 appearance fee, £120,000 goal bonus and a £.31 million clause for reaching 10 league goals. While left-back Christopher Madu signed a £120,000-a-week contract in the summer with a clause that increased that wage to £250,000 after five international games. So his wage more than doubled within three months of Lazaró joining. The financial mismanagement is absolutely astounding and, as a result, the club is losing about £15 million every month! So Lazaró’s careful summer work was well and truly undone.

Can Lazaró continue to manage the financial chaos? Join us next time to find out!

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